By Damakant Jayshi

With the state of Wisconsin seeing a rise in the abuse of the elderly population, Mayor Katie Rosenberg on Monday issued a proclamation designating June 15 as Elder Abuse Awareness Day. 

This day coincides with an internationally recognized day for the purpose. In 2006, the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

In the Proclamation, Mayor Rosenberg noted that abuse of the elderly “is a tragedy inflicted on vulnerable seniors and an ever-increasing problem in today’s society that crosses all socio-economic boundaries.”

La’Tanya Campbell, Transitional Living Program Coordinator at The Women’s Community in Wausau, who worked with Rosenberg on the proclamation told Wausau Pilot & Review that number of cases of abuse of seniors is steady but added that “the severity of the abuse inflicted upon the aging population and the isolation they face has increased.”

Campbell, who is also an appointed member of Marathon County’s Diversity Affairs Commission, said the proclamation declaring June 15 as Elder Abuse Awareness Day is one of the ways to educate the community on the dynamics of abuse faced by the elderly population.

According to Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ Annual Abuse and Neglect Report 2020, there were 9,473 reports of incidents regarding elderly people from all 72 Wisconsin counties. The number represents an increase of more than 65% in such cases since 2013. And according to National Council on Aging (NCOA), five million older Americans are abused every year. The annual loss suffered by “victims of financial abuse is estimated to be at least $36.5 billion.”

Of the reported incidents, self-neglect tops with 4,896 (47%), followed by financial exploitation (20.6%), neglect by others (9.6%), emotional abuse (6.9%), physical abuse (6.2%), sexual abuse (0.4%), unreasonable confinement or restraint (0.1%) and four instances of treatment without consent.

In Wisconsin, self-neglect, according to Report Abuse, “is considered a significant danger to an individual’s physical or mental health because the individual is responsible for his or her own care but fails to obtain adequate care, including food, shelter, clothing, or medical or dental care.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines elder abuse as “an intentional act or failure to act that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult. An older adult is someone age 60 or older. The abuse often occurs at the hands of a caregiver or a person the elder trusts.”

The data bears that out. Of the abusers, 65% were either close family member or service providers, friend or neighbor, or employer. They include offspring, spouse, caregivers, other relatives and employers.

Where to get help

Helpline for elders at risk: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/aps/ear-agencies.htm#marathon

Damakant Jayshi is a reporter for Wausau Pilot & Review. He is also a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of GroundTruth Project that places journalists into local newsrooms. Reach him at damakant@wausaupilotandreview.com.